The Morgan Bible (mostly The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, Ms M. 638), also called the Morgan Picture Bible, Crusader Bible, Shah Abbas Bible or Maciejowski Bible, is a unique medieval illuminated manuscript. It is a picture book Bible consisting of 46 surviving folios. The book consists of miniature paintings of events from the Hebrew Bible, set in the scenery and costumes of thirteenth-century France, depicted from a Christian perspective. It is not a complete Bible, focusing mostly on stories involving kings, especially King David. These are now surrounded by text in three scripts and five languages: Latin, Persian, Arabic, Judeo-Persian, and Hebrew. The level of detail used and the remarkable state of preservation make it particularly valuable to scholars.
Forty-three folios are in the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York City, with two folios in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (MS nouv. acq. lat. 2294). A single folio is now in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (MS 16). Two folios are thought to be missing from the original work.
The Morgan Bible is part of the Pierpont Morgan Library in, New York (Ms M. 638). It is a medieval picture Bible. Although the Morgan Bible originally contained 48 folios, of these, 43 still resided in the Morgan Museum, two are in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris, one is in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles and two have been lost. The cover that once bound the manuscript has been lost over time. The surviving leaves measure at 32.5 × 29.1 cm (12 13/16 × 11 7/16 in.) In full, the manuscript contained over 380 scenes. It was the work if at least six different artists. The book consists of paintings of events from Hebrew scripture, but are given a setting in the customs and costumes of thirteenth-century France, and concentrating on stories of kings, especially David.
The Morgan bible is not a complete bible. It includes portions of "Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, and Samuel" with a particular emphasis on early Israelite heroes and served as models of kingship to learn from.
Originally, the bible contained only miniatures, organized in a consistent visual rhythm from page to page. Within 100 years, the book acquired marginal inscriptions in Latin describing the scenes illustrated. Cardinal Bernard Maciejowski, Bishop of Kraków, had the book given as a gift to Abbas I (Shah of Persia) in 1608. Abbas ordered inscriptions in Persian to be added, mostly translating the Latin ones already there. Later, in the eighteenth century, inscriptions were added in Judeo-Persian. The Latin text allowed art historians to identify the subjects of the miniatures.
The manuscript is of particular interest to scholars because of the quality and preservation of the illuminations. The level of details included, from architecture, to siege engines to haircuts provide historians with valuable clues as to what life was like at the time while the stylistic changes and subtle variations in the story-lines give some insight into one of the most powerful men in Europe.
The book has traditionally been thought to have been created in Paris in the mid-1240s for Louis IX of France. A suggestion by Allison Stones, expanding on conclusions by others such as François Avril, that it was instead illuminated in northern France, c. 1250, has not won general acceptance.
The modern imagery may have been a political statement because the Franks, especially under Louis IX, saw themselves as the legitimate heirs of Rome. Under Louis IX France took a militant position against the enemies of Christendom, taking an active part in the seventh and eighth crusades. The creation of the Morgan Bible falls around the time Louis IX when on his first crusade and the style of using modem clothes on biblical figures appears in other works he commissioned around this time such as the Sainte-Chapelle chapel whose stained glass is in the same style, suggesting they may have been used to legitimize his position at home and among the other crusaders.
Ownership up to this point has been based mostly on guesswork and circumstantial evidence. The first recorded owner of the bible was Cardinal Bernard Maciejowski who was the Bishop of Cracow, Poland. Maciejowski studied for the priesthood in Italy and likely gained ownership of the manuscript while there.
In 1604, Cardinal Maciekowski gifted the bible to Shah Abbas I through a delegation, as is evidenced by the inscription of folio 1 that reads in Latin (translated by Daniel Weiss) "Bernard Maciejowski, Cardinal Priest of the Holy Roman Church, Bishop of Cracow, Duke of Siewierz, and Senator of the Kingdom of Poland with sincere wishes offers this gift to the supreme King of the Persians at Cracow the mother city of the kingdom of Poland on the seventh of September 1604." It officially reached the Shah back in Isfahan in 1608. The Shah seemed to enjoy the gift and after having missionaries explain the pictures, he had Persian inscriptions added and added his own seal of ownership on folio 42v.
Shortly after receiving the book a couple leaves seem to have been removed. It has been suggested that Shah Abbas I removed these pages, all involving Absalom's rebellion, because he thought they might be a bad influence on his young son, however, others suggest that he may have removed them in 1615 as they may have provided a painful reminder of how he executed his son that year for treason.
When the Afghans conquered Isfahan in 1722, the royal library was sacked along with the rest of the city. Little is known of the manuscript's whereabouts in succeeding years except that a Persian Jew, added Judeo-Persian inscriptions to the manuscript and even commented on and corrected the previous scripts.
It is not heard of again until 1833 when it was auctioned off by Sotheby's whose records say they bought it in Cairo. It was sold to London dealers Payne and Foss who then sold it to manuscript collector Sir Thomas Phillipps who owned around 60,000 manuscripts before he died. When he died, his collection went to his daughter, then to his grandson, who eventually began selling it off due to debts. Sotheby's once again took charge of auctioning the book, eventually selling it to Pierpont Morgan in 1910 for £10,000.